theremin

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theremin

(thĕr`əmən), one of the earliest electronic musical instruments, invented (1920) in the Soviet Union and named for its creator, Leon ThereminTheremin, Leon
, 1896–1993, Russian engineer and inventor, b. St. Petersburg as Lev Sergeyevich Termen. He studied and worked in his native city, attending its university and conservatory and directing a lab at one of its technical institutes, where he invented the
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. A forerunner of the synthesizer, it consists of a wooden box fitted with two radio-frequency oscillators and two metal antennas, a vertical rod on the instrument's right and a horizontal ring on its left. The player moves the hands in the air around the antennas without touching them, creating changes the antennas' electromagnetic fields. The right hand controls the pitch, the left hand, the volume. The sine-wave tones that are produced are then amplified and fed into a loudspeaker.

The theremin's sound has been described as like that of a violin but more spooky and otherworldly. While some classical composers have written for the instrument, e.g., Henry CowellCowell, Henry Dixon
, 1897–1965, American composer and pianist, b. Menlo Park, Calif., largely self-educated, studied musicology in Berlin (1931–32). Cowell experimented with new musical resources; in his piano compositions he introduced the tone cluster, played with
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 and Edgard VarèseVarèse, Edgard
, 1883–1965, French-American composer. In Paris he first studied mathematics and science but became more interested in music. He then studied composition with Roussel and D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum and with Widor at the Conservatory.
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, it has been used more frequently in film soundtracks—where its eerie, swooping tones can create an atmosphere of unease or strangeness—and by such rock groups as The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and Radiohead.

Bibliography

See S. M. Martin, dir., Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (DVD, 1995, rereleased 2001).

Theremin

 

(etherophone), an electrophonic musical instrument, invented in 1921 by the Soviet engineer L. S. Termen. In order to produce a musical tone, the theremin makes use of audio-frequency electrical oscillations produced by a vacuum-tube generator; the oscillations are amplified and then converted into sound by a loudspeaker. An upright, metal rod attached to a metal arc is used to change the frequency and amplitude of the oscillations generated (the pitch and loudness of the sound); the rod and arc serve as the generator’s oscillatory system. The performer controls the theremin by changing the position of the palms of his hands: the hand near the rod controls the pitch, and the hand near the arc controls loudness. The theremin can be made to sound like a violin, cello, flute, or other musical instrument; the timbre of the sound is determined by the operating mode of the generator.